Vice President Joe Biden expanded his exploration of a presidential campaign Saturday, sitting down for a private lunch with US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at the Naval Observatory in Washington.
Biden put out feelers to request some time with Warren in the last week, people familiar with the meeting said. They sat down for more than an hour for a wide-ranging discussion on the economy, the middle class, foreign policy, and campaign finance, they added.
After the meeting, Biden returned home to Wilmington, Del., where he’s been with family and top aides for the last week. Warren is heading out of town for a vacation.
The meeting with Warren is the latest sign that Biden, 72, is taking a hard look at making a third bid for the White House. It also underscores the difficulty that front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton is having trouble shoring up her candidacy as questions continue to dog her about the private computer server she used for e-mail as secretary of state.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll of three swing states showed that Biden — who has largely stayed out of the public eye this summer — fared as well as or better than Clinton in head-to-head matchups with top GOP presidential candidates. The survey also showed that voters in each of the key states found Biden to be more trustworthy than Clinton.
If Biden decides to enter the race, he would completely upend the Democratic nomination process — which has so far shaped up to be a contest between Clinton and US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described socialist. Biden’s near-universal name recognition gives him some ability to take his time in deciding, though the Clinton campaign has already vacuumed up top strategists and raised about $45 million.
Those close to Biden say that he would have to make a decision in the next month and that, should he run, it would be critical that he appear on stage for the first Democratic debate, which is set for mid-October. Only four Democratic debates are scheduled before the Iowa Caucuses on Feb. 1.
Biden’s need to reach out to Warren highlights her status as the leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. Clinton also had a private meeting with Warren prior to announcing her presidential bid. Liberal groups had pressured Warren to seek the White House, but she has repeatedly said she’s not interested.
Many Democratic activists still would like to see her name somewhere on the ballot — as does at least one Biden confidant. “I think that would be a great ticket,” quipped Larry Rasky, a longtime Biden adviser, suggesting that a Biden-Warren team could be in the cards. An aide to Warren declined to comment on her willingness to play that role.
Warren’s vast army of supporters has so far flocked to Sanders, who is campaigning on ending economic inequality, increasing regulations on large financial institutions, and expanding access to education and health care. His rallies are attracting tens of thousands of people.
Warren’s influence on the campaign is evident in other ways: All major declared candidates have offered a plan to reduce student debt, taking up an issue dear to Warren.
In the past, Warren has criticized both Biden and Clinton for supporting legislation that would make it more difficult for consumers to declare bankruptcy. In her 2003 book “The Two-Income Trap,” Warren called out women’s groups who lavished praise on Biden (because of his work on anti-domestic violence legislation) even though he didn’t support legislation she thought would curtail predatory lending to women.
“Senators like Joe Biden should not be allowed to sell out women in the morning and be heralded as their friend in the evening,” Warren wrote.
In the campaign, Biden would be the purest choice for those seeking a “third term” for President Obama. He’s been part of almost every major White House policy under Obama, from lobbying his former Senate colleagues to support the Affordable Care Act to his current role pushing them to back Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
He’s even been ahead of the administration — supporting same-sex marriage months before Obama planned to announce his changed opinion on that issue.
The sharpest differences between Biden and Clinton would probably be style. Clinton is running a disciplined campaign, focused intently on her message.
Biden is superior at retail politics and frequently departs from talking points, which has gotten him into trouble in the past. But his willingness to speak off the cuff presents an advantage at a moment when Americans are supporting authenticity over poll-tested perfection.
“I have the highest regard and affection for him,” Clinton said recently at a stop in Claremont, N.H., when asked about the possibility that Biden might run. “I think we should all just let the vice president be with his family and make whatever decision he believes is right for him, and I will respect whatever that decision is.”
For Biden to be successful, he would have to overcome the historic nature of Clinton’s campaign — many Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire see her as the right person to break the glass ceiling for women in US politics.
Biden has twice before sought the White House. He dropped out in 2008 after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, and he sought the 1988 Democratic nomination but left the race abruptly in September 1987 amid accusations of plagiarism.
His tentative consideration of a third run was put on hold earlier this year after his eldest son became sick with cancer. Beau Biden died at age 46 in May.
Speculation about whether Biden would get in the race intensified after an Aug. 1 New York Times column revealed that Beau had urged his father to run for president.